Addressing the impact of climate change on air pollution and health requires an interdisciplinary, proactive approach, according to two experts who spoke at the fifth National Institutes of Health (NIH) Climate Change and Health Seminar, held Feb. 22. The seminar series is part of the new NIH-wide Climate Change and Health (CCH) Initiative.
Connections between climate change and air pollution were explained by Jonathan Samet, M.D., from the Colorado School of Public Health, and Tami Bond, Ph.D., from Colorado State University. They discussed the importance of health effects research and intervention science, which are two of the four core components of the CCH Initiative’s strategic framework. The virtual lecture was hosted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
“Climate change is a major public health challenge that requires strategies for building resilience and adaptation,” said Gary Gibbons, M.D., NHLBI director. He is one of seven NIH institute and center directors serving on the CCH Initiative’s Executive Committee, which is chaired by NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D.
Health effects of climate-related air pollution
Climate-driven air pollution can lead to serious health consequences, such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory conditions, and lung cancer, according to Samet. He said that direct and indirect consequences of climate change can affect mental health, cause social and economic disruptions, and result in climate-driven migration.
Samet also discussed the potential health challenges associated with pollutants from wildfires and dust storms, which are expected to increase in frequency and severity with climate change.
“Researchers have examined the health risks related to particulate matter in general, but wildfire smoke and desert dust need further investigation with regard to the specific risks posed to health,” he said.
Mitigation through interdisciplinary research
Although finding ways to decrease exposures and expand clean energy policies is an important part of mitigation efforts, more work is needed to address the complex, global issue of climate-related air pollution, according to Bond. Intervention science and interdisciplinary research approaches can help to reduce the potential negative health effects of such pollution, she noted.
“Massive shifts in climate change are coming, and one of the challenges that we have is how to maintain health in the face of these big shifts,” Bond told attendees. She offered the following research recommendations.
- Use biomarkers and sensors to measure impacts of wildfire smoke and desert dust.
- Develop risk ratios for various health outcomes worsened by climate change.
- Conduct experiments to examine causes of health disparities from climate-driven air pollution.
- Identify and understand emerging contaminants resulting from climate change.
- Integrate environmental evaluation as an element of health diagnosis.
Community engagement is also critical, according to Bond.
“We need to collaborate with community leaders to best understand their priorities and work together toward reduction in air pollution exposure in a way that fits with their lives and their priorities,” she said.
Resources on climate change, pollution, human health
Samet and Bond shared the following resources about climate change, air pollution, and human health.
- World Health Organization Global Air Quality Guidelines.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program.
- Fourth national climate assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
- United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Communities, Climate Change, and Health Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop–in Brief. Another workshop on state-level actions to improve climate-related health outcomes will be held May 24-26.
The next webinar in the Climate Change and Health Seminar Series will be hosted by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) on April 8 at 1:00 p.m. The event will feature Craig Newgard, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. Registration is available..
(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer-editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)